My Body, Red Apples, and The Purity of the Nation
I was reading a book and came across the quote: “The genital area accounts for only 1percent of the surface area of the body. But – 1 percent or not – genitals carry an enormousamount of cultural weight in the meanings that are attached to them, and I would arguethat they constitute nearly 100 percent of what we, as both cultural members and asproducers of cultural knowledge, come to understand and assume about the body’s sexand gender”. (Valentine and Wilchins 1997: 215).
That was such a simple and obvious thing to see, yet it never crossed my mind. I am awoman, born in Armenia, and I have a vagina. But the things I have been forbidden to door even think about due to me being born with a particular genital organ were so many;they almost were entirely constituting my identity both as a woman and as a member ofa nation. But what was the most exciting thing to me is how the woman’s vagina wasassociated with the purity and honor of the (any) nation.
Let’s take the old tradition of the “red apple,” present in Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan(and maybe other countries?). The idea that the first man who has taken away thewoman’s virginity (read as purity) had at the same time dominated her - is stillomnipresent in the societies across the Caucasus, where virginity is thought of as somekind of a commodity to be taken and given. There are, of course, historical connections ofthis, and predominantly the patriarchal ideology imagines women’s bodies as acommodity for the fulfillment of male desires and at the same time reproduction of anhonorable nation. Importantly, with the marriage, the woman enters the eternal bond witha particular male body, and it is only his body that needs to be satisfied. Any possibility ofher movement between different male bodies - in case of the divorce from her husband -might become the reason for femicide, when the abusive partner becomes highlyinsecure and cannot tolerate the idea of his ex-partner deciding the fate of her own body.
My first bitter experience was having a sexual relationship with my boyfriend. Althoughwe loved each other and were together for two years, he left me two months later, sayinghe could not forgive me for allowing him to take my body before the marriage. As if hisbreaking up with me was not traumatic enough, he ended our relationship by blamingme for causing its end. I had the worst period in my life. I cried for days. I took a showerand felt that somebody covered my body in mud, and no matter how long I would washmy body, the dirt wouldn’t disappear. I was cursing myself and crying, cursing and crying.I could never tell my family about it, neither could I say to my friends since most of myfemale friends were having a “decent” relationship, and I was afraid they would thinkbadly about me. Months were passing, I was going to work, meeting with friends, cominghome, and still being upset about the whole thing. I stopped crying as I did before, butthe heaviness and the mixed feeling of shame and guilt would not leave my heart.
Soon I met a great guy. We were immediately attracted to each other and we startedtalking as friends, although it was apparent that it was going towards a romanticrelationship. We would never meet alone, but always in the company of friends, going tothe cinema, or having a coffee and walking in the beautiful area near the Cascade. Onetime, two friends who came with us decided to leave earlier (I thought he asked them todo so). He said he would like to invite me to a nice place, and my heart was alreadyjumping from the excitement. We went to a nice cafe on the top roof, and while havingthe meal, he talked about his feelings. The happiness and joy were burning me inside,but it was also mixed with the fear in anticipating his reaction when he learned that I wasnot a virgin. I was confused and did not know what to do. Should I tell him from thebeginning about my relationship past? But he seemed such a progressive guy, in his early30s, he does not seem like a person who would care about such things? The wholemoment was so beautiful that I decided not to tell anything, at least for now, because inno way I was going to keep it a secret. Moreover, I knew that soon there would be aconvenient moment to open the conversation and that’s when I would tell him. Myintuition told me that he would never consider such a thing to be an issue. That eveninghe accompanied me home, and after so many months since the painful break up with myex, I felt that my value, my honor, was brought back to me. I was smiling, dancing in myroom. I was again happy.
Everything was going great, we would do our best to meet every day after work. A weekpassed, and as usual, that evening, he brought me home by his car. We were sitting in thecar and talking. He always called me “my angel,” continually telling me I was the image ofpurity. In the beginning, I was feeling in need of such words since it would be apsychological medicine for my slowly healing wound from the past trauma. However, thistime I felt unpleasant. I asked him semi-joking: “Why do you always emphasize purity asthe most important feature in me?” He said: “Because you are my pure girl, my untouchedbeauty, and I am dreaming about the day when you will be mine.”
As if a bucket of ice water was poured over my head. I was shocked. “What? Oh my God!But how could he? So he is too? What am I going to do? All is a lie, they are all the same…”I felt how my hands were becoming cold and how my eyes were getting wet. I told him ina sad calm voice: “Why would you assume that I never was in a relationship with anyone?If that was such an important thing for you, why didn't you ask me from the verybeginning? I had a boyfriend, and I was with him.” I was expecting him to get angry withme, to start accusing me of “keeping the truth from him” (even though I wasn’t evenasked), but he just became deeply saddened. I was so angry with the whole situation thatI asked him if he had affairs with women before, to which he replied “of course I did”. Thatmade me even angrier. Then how come that him having an affair is such an absolutelynormal and natural way to go, and having more affairs with women makes him an“experienced, charismatic man”, doubles his masculinity and value, while in my case thatone tiny transparent hymen layer determines my whole life, my value, and status in thesociety and the nation. Surprisingly, I felt enormous energy and power. I did not want tospend another few months spewing at my dignity and hating myself just because thewomen in my society unconsciously follow the male representation of the world.
I broke up with him. Not because he told me that we could still be together but he wouldnever be able to overcome the idea that “someone else owned me” before him and thusthe marriage would be out of the question. But because I was fed up with that kind ofmen, for whom my whole value would be extracted from the purity of my hymen. Howcome I can be an educated, kind, open-hearted person who never harmed anyone, but Irepresent no value and have no dignity just because another human being with aprivileged form of genitalia became that power that would decide the fate of my bodyand spirit. That means that my body and many other women’s bodies that exist of fleshand blood are treated a certain way based on the power relationship between men andwomen. Today, this all sounds like an absurdity to me. And it all makes sense as long aswomen take the patriarchal representation of life as the absolute truth. But is it so?